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Friday, May 1, 2020

Prisoner of War Exchanges

Following the Battle of Bull Run and for the early part of the Civil War, when soldiers were captured by the enemy, rather than being kept as prisoners of war, they were generally exchanged back to their own side under a set of rules that was called the Dix Hill Cartel. This system was codified on July 22, 1862, and called for exchanges of all soldiers captured.

Then in September of 1862, President Lincoln called for the enlistment of black soldiers into the US Army as part of the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. This would change everything.  No longer would white soldiers be exchanged for white soldiers. Now, the US Government expected that black soldiers (many of whom were former slaves) would be exchanged equally for white soldiers. 

On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1862, Confederate President Davis responded by issuing a Proclamation and General Order No. 111 that neither captured black soldiers (who he considered to be "armed slaves in insurrection") nor their white officers would be subject to exchange under the Dix Hill Cartel rules. 

"3d. That all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to the laws of said States. 
4th. That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy."

This did not discourage President Lincoln, and one week later, on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation became official and the United States began the active recruitment of black soldiers and sailors. 

(The Lieber Codes)

In April 1863 the US government adopted the Lieber Codes, also known as General Order 100. They stipulated that the United States Army expected all prisoners to be treated equally, regardless of color. 

On May 1, 1863, the Confederate Congress passed a joint resolution that formalized Davis' December 1862 proclamation that the Confederate forces would not exchange black US Colored Troop soldiers who were taken prisoner.  It stated its belief that black US Army soldiers who had been recruited from among escaped slaves were still the property of their former enslavers and that their participation in the US Army was punishable. White officers of these soldiers could also to be put to death if captured.

Sec. 3 . . . .the President of the confederate States [Jefferson Davis] is hereby authorized to cause full and complete retaliation to be made for every such violation, in such manner and to such extent as he may think proper.
Sec. 4. That every white person, being a commissioned officer, or acting as such, who, during the present war, shall command negroes or mulattoes in arms against the confederate States, or who shall arm, train, organize, or prepare negroes or mulattoes for military service against the confederate States, or who shall voluntarily aid negroes or mulattoes in any military enterprise, attack, or conflict in such service, shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall, if captured, be put to death, or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the court.

In mid-July 1863 this became a reality, as several black soldiers from the 54th Massachusetts were not exchanged with their fellow white soldiers who participated in the assault on Fort Wagner.  

Harper's Weekly
Cartoon: “The President’s Order No. 252”
August 15, 1863
On July 30, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued General Order 252, which effectively suspended the Dix-Hill Cartel until the Confederate forces agreed to treat black prisoners the same as white prisoners. The Presidential order required that for every US  soldier who was killed, or for any soldier who was enslaved by the enemy, a Confederate soldier would also be killed or put to hard labor. The order was issued in response to Confederate threats to treat captured black US Army soldiers as contraband and return them to slavery or execute them. The Confederate forces would not recognize the black soldiers as soldiers, and large scale prisoner exchanges largely ceased by August 1863. 

War Department. General Order No. 252.
Washington: July 31, 1863.

This resulted in a dramatic increase in the prison populations on both sides. Large numbers of captured soldiers were held in prisons with terrible conditions such as Andersonville (Confederate) and Rock Island (US Army). 

Locally, at least one group of white officers of black soldiers were killed instead of taken POW and perhaps a group of black soldiers was killed.  In late December 1864, US Colored Troops were involved in the pursuit of Confederate John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee during its retreat following the Battle of Nashville. As I discussed in this blog post, several white officers of black troops were taken prisoner by Confederate soldiers. Two were murdered and one was shot but survived. It was suspected that a group of black privates was also killed. The event was decried by General Ulysses S. Grant.

Additionally, several Williamson County men who escaped from slavery to serve in the US Colored Troops were taken POW by the Confederates. In late September 1864, Confederate Nathan Bedford Forrest led his cavalry force into northern Alabama and Middle Tennessee to disrupt the supplies for US General Sherman's march into Georgia. They took POWs from the 110th USCT while paroling the white officers. Williamson County's Pvt. Eli Perkins was among the POWs. He was captured on September 24th and managed to escape and return to duty with his regiment on November 1, 1864. The day after Pvt Eli Perkins was captured, on September 25th, 1864, Forrest moved his forces north of Athens along the Nashville & Decatur railroad to attack a strategic trestle bridge near Elkmont, Alabama at Sulphur Branch Creek. A fort, two blockhouses, and a force of 1,000 US Army soldiers - including the 111th USCT - were defending the trestle. Forrest heavily bombed the fortification and took it and the men as well. Among those captured was Pvt. James Moore. The USCT POWs were marched first to Tuscumbia, Alabama. From there, a train took them into Mississippi and finally to Mobile, Alabama. While in Mobile, Pvt. Moore was probably treated terribly. An old cotton warehouse was converted into a prison that held over five hundred black prisoners. One man said this about his experience: 
Pvt. James Moore, 1828 - 1893
111th US Colored Infantry Co I
"We were kept at hard labor and inhumanly treated; if we lagged or faltered, or misunderstood an order, we were whipped and abused; some of our men being detailed to whip others.”
Pvt. James Moore was held in Mobile until May 4, 1865, when he was turned over "By [Confederate] General Dick at the surrender of his army." He returned to the US Army and mustered out April 30, 1866, in Nashville with his unit and settled on Carter's Creek Pike in Franklin where he died at the age of 65.

Additionally, three Williamson County USCT POWs served in the 44th US Colored Infantry and were captured near Dalton, Georgia by General John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee on October 13, 1864, in Dalton, Georgia. All three managed to escape and return to duty with the 44th: Sgt. Henry Lanear, Cpl. Harrison Roberts, and Pvt. Granville Scales (full story here). Only Pvt. Scales would survive the War. He returned to Williamson County where he farmed in the immediate post-War period but later moved his family to Kansas and finally Oklahoma City where he died in 1918.